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College football 2019: Will USC and UCLA have anything to cheer about?

USC receiver Velus Jones Jr. sprints to the end zone for a touchdown as UCLA defensive back Nate Meadors gives chase in the second quarter at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 17, 2018.
USC receiver Velus Jones Jr. sprints to the end zone for a touchdown as UCLA defensive back Nate Meadors gives chase in the second quarter at the Rose Bowl in November.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

J. Brady McCollough examines the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. The second installment looks at what’s ahead for USC and UCLA.

Last year’s USC-UCLA game in mid-November drew 57,116 people to the Rose Bowl, the smallest crowd for the crosstown game since 1950.

Those who made the trek to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains must have been determined to honor tradition in the face of mounting evidence there was probably something better to do with their Saturday.

We all know what happened in 2018. UCLA, which upended USC’s season and helped keep the Trojans from bowl eligibility with a 34-27 victory, finished with three victories in Chip Kelly’s first season.

USC finished 5-7, but its first losing season since 2000 wasn’t enough to usher in a new era at McKay Center. There’s no reason to take apart the wreckage of Los Angeles’ collective disaster any further, but it does beg the question:

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In 2019, will there be any reason to care about college football in this city in November? Or even October?

If USC and UCLA don’t get things moving in the right direction soon, they risk looking up in a few years and L.A. being a full-fledged NFL town, focusing its football energy on Sunday and leaving Saturday clear for brunches, scenic hikes and the like.

J. Brady McCollough examines the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. The first installment looks at Alabama and Clemson’s dominance.

Not long ago, USC prided itself on functioning as the city’s pro football team, filling the void of having no NFL presence. But the Rams are back now and coming off a Super Bowl berth. Nobody knows that more than the Trojans, who have shared the Coliseum with their temporary tenants until the Rams make a permanent home in Inglewood.

Here’s the bad news this fall: USC and UCLA’s schedules do them no favors.

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The Trojans welcome Stanford and Pac-12 Conference favorite Utah to the Coliseum, and travel to Brigham Young in the first four games. Even if they start 4-0, perilous trips to Washington and Notre Dame loom.

A 4-2 start would give them a shot at a Pac-12 title and national relevance down the stretch, but at that point, many USC fans would be fine with a couple more losses to push Clay Helton out the door.

The Bruins’ schedule makers are not aiding Kelly’s rebuild effort. With a nonconference slate of at Cincinnati, San Diego State and Oklahoma and games at Washington State and at Arizona to start Pac-12 play, a 3-2 start would feel like a monumental accomplishment. It’s just as likely the Bruins stumble out of the gate at 1-4 a year after starting 0-5.

UCLA could very well be vastly improved and still not get into a bowl game with this setup. Bruins fans need to keep perspective and trust their eyes rather than what the record says this fall.

The same could be said for USC, but there will be no patience left for Helton after last season.

If this year’s USC-UCLA attendance Nov. 23 at the Coliseum eclipses last year’s number, it could be a sign that something has been restored for at least one of these programs in 2019.


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